Despite harsh condemnation from top legal authorities and demonstrations against the changes that brought tens of thousands of people, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Sunday that his administration intends to revamp the nation’s judicial system.
The escalating opposition to the legislation amendments, which Netanyahu, facing a corruption investigation, has made the cornerstone of his new government’s agenda, is an early challenge for the Israeli president.
The revisions, according to critics, could either help Netanyahu avoid conviction in his corruption trial or ultimately end the prosecution.
The reform would lessen the influence of the Supreme Court, give the government more control over judicial selection, and curtail the independence of government legal advisors.
Lawmakers could approve laws that the Supreme Court has invalidated with a simple majority.
The country’s attorney general has spoken out against the plan, as have many of her predecessors, and tens of thousands protested the proposed changes in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
The proposed changes have sparked an outcry from the Supreme Court’s chief justice, who, in rare criticism, called the overhaul an “unbridled attack on the justice system.”
Despite the criticism, Netanyahu informed his Cabinet at a meeting that voters in the November elections supported his campaign promise to overhaul the justice system.
To fully defend individual rights, fix what needs to be corrected, and restore public confidence in the justice system—all of which call for this reform—we will finish legislating the reforms, according to Netanyahu.
A more nuanced picture was presented by a poll released on Sunday.
According to the survey, 58% of Israelis think the Supreme Court should be able to invalidate parliamentary bills that violate democratic values.
The Israel Democracy Institute questioned 1,092 participants in the study, conducted in October, right before the election, and had a margin of error of 2.8%.
The study was a component of the nonpartisan institute’s yearly “Israeli Democracy Index.” Still, it also revealed that Israeli Jews’ confidence in the Supreme Court dropped 42% last year from a multiyear average of 59.5%.
It stated that only 18.5% of people trusted the parliament, and the nation’s Arab minority has slightly lower levels of trust.
Israel’s court system, which received more power in the 1990s and has since been criticized for overly intrusive in the legislative process, has previously been called for reform.
However, opponents view the drastic changes requested by Netanyahu’s justice minister as a death knell for Israel’s system of checks and balances and, in turn, its democratic fundamentals.
The proposed changes have revealed how profoundly divided Israeli society is, torn between upholding the nation’s liberal and democratic traditions or moving away from them.
They were put forth weeks after the administration was sworn in.
They have also demonstrated the speed with which the nation’s government, which is the most right-wing ever, is determined to advance its programs, many of which have drawn criticism from unexpected sources.
The ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu’s coalition government have occasionally had their ambitions stymied by Supreme Court rulings or adverse legal advice from the government.
Due to this, they were compelled to ensure that the legal amendments were given high priority during discussions to form the government.
Among those concessions was a commitment to give control of some educational initiatives to Avi Maoz, the leader of a tiny, extremist, religious ultranationalist group that has frequently uttered anti-LGBTQ vitriol.
The Cabinet accepted the proposal on Sunday despite opposition from Israeli parents and mayors when it was first being debated.
President Isaac Herzog of Israel, who typically plays a primarily symbolic role, has intervened to help heal the rift over the judicial reforms.
Herzog said in a statement that he had met with several politicians to avert “a historic constitutional catastrophe.” On Saturday, dozens of protesters demonstrated in front of his Jerusalem home.
According to Netanyahu, the revision will be done slowly and under legislative control.